Edited with Nigel Thompson
Two hundred years after Byron turned his back on the hypocrisy and cant of his native England, fifteen contemporary poets pay homage to Byron’s greatest satirical creation by writing a new Don Juan for our own age of cant. Mixing Low Comedy and High Seriousness, the book follows night-club DJ and picaresque anti-hero Donald Johnson as he stumbles from one romantic disaster to the next. Along the way, the authors pass comment on the customs and common-sense of the contemporary world. Donny seeks his fortune in Cameron’s Britain, Berlusconi’s Italy and Sydney’s clubland. He is a London restaurant critic, a Brussels Eurocrat and a reality TV celeb. If you are quick you can catch him in Greece, Budapest, Central America, a prison cell – even in Outer Space. The contributors are Ben Borek, Andy Croft, Claudia Daventry, Ian Duhig, Rachel Hadas, WN Herbert, George Jowett, John Lucas, Amit Majmudar, Sinead Morrissey, Alicia Stallings, George Szirtes, Nigel Thompson, Tim Thorne and Mike Wilson.
Dedication I Lord Byron! You’re a poet, so to speak; Unrepresentative of all the race By virtue of your wit, the sheer technique With which you cocked two fingers at disgrace; If only poets now had half your cheek, Perhaps the world would be a better place; Instead of which (we know you will not thank us For telling you) it’s run by merchant bankers. II To dedicate these Cantos to a toff Is hard for us, therefore, who must endure The sight of well-fed porkers in the trough And public school-boys stealing from the Poor Their Benefits. The rich can all fuck off And die as far as we’re concerned. Since you’re Already dead, this lets you off the hook; So here it is in verse: a votive book. III Although you were a bigwig and a nob, (There’s some no doubt would spell that with a ‘k’) Who liked to make your gentle readers throb Regarding Juan’s antics in the hay, Your politics were with the Luddite mob, St Peter’s dead, and not with Castlereagh; We sense that your anarchic shade’s still there Among the protests in Syntagma Square. IV In other words, we frankly disagree With Auden’s lazy Fuhrer-Prinzip joke; We do not see you in the BNP Or cadging drinks like some old UKIP soak, The EDL are not your cup of tea, The Cameroons not quite your kind of folk. Your lordship knew what scholarship must show – They’re all mad, bad and dangerous to know. V The world has changed since 1824, Though not as much as might have been expected, Our government still wages endless war For reasons that must never be inspected, And poetry these days would make you snore. That’s why, you see, your Don’s been resurrected: His character’s a glass in which we find The follies of your Age and ours combined. VI We think it’s safe to say you’d recognise The swine who’re now high-rolling in the swill, Incredulous that they can privatise The public while the public foots the bill; And though, as you by now must realise, The world has slaves and kings and armies still, Our violent leaders always find it handy To know by heart a quote or two by Gandhi. VII You may have been a peer, but you were peerless At laughing in the face of those in power; Our cultural life would not be quite so cheerless, Our writers locked inside the Leaning Tower, Our politicians wouldn’t be so fearless If only you were living at this hour. The Age of Wilders, Vona, Gove and Grayling’s In urgent need of poets to scourge its failings. VIII Since we, who hang out with pedestrian Muses, Could never hope to catch the winged steed Of your iambic metre as it cruises (At eighty thousand feet!) we knew we’d need Some help to rouse your hero from his snoozes And bring him up to date and up to speed. You see, despite the catch that we’ve just landed, We still can’t match what you caught single-handed. IX That we’re one Canto short of your DJ Is very much a matter of regret (Which fish escaped the net we cannot say); If only you’d been here to share the sweat We would have been in print before today; It took fifteen of us (a quindectet?) To extricate from Hell your pretty fellow Without the help, this time, of Leporello. X Perhaps you think this project a mistake, Or what some might call leading with the chin, An open goal for critics who will take The chance to throw it unread in the bin; Exhuming Donny was a piece of cake Compared to trying to give this book a spin; In short, it’s bound to suffer by comparison Because we are not you (or Tony Harrison). XI But though your lordship’s wit’s beyond compare, Your Hudibrastic rhyming quite sublime, It doesn’t mean that we are unaware How often you employed a dodgy rhyme; No man and woman make a common pair As tuneless to our ears as in your time, But if your rhymes are sudden and/or wooden, As far as you’re concerned – the job’s a good ’un. XII So if our use of metre’s sometimes bumpy, And if at times the rhymes fall somewhat short, We don’t expect to hear you’ve gone all grumpy, Instead we’d like to think we’ve your support (Especially as there’s lots of rumpy-pumpy Which always was your favourite kind of sport), We learned our songs from you, at second-hand, This fifteen-piece Lord Byron tribute band.
‘Croft’s rhymes in particular are laugh-out-loud funny’
Times Literary Supplement